STRATEGY -- Keeping it sweet with the landlord

Keeping landlords happy is critical to successful property management. 

As rents continue to rise and vacancy rates plunge, property management is becoming an increasingly attractive business proposition for real estate agencies.

Not surprisingly, in a recent Real Estate Business straw poll, 80.8 per cent of the 291 respondents said they were planning to grow their property management business in the coming year.

However, while property management may be hard to resist in today’s market, agents must understand how challenging it can be dealing with landlords.

Investment property owners face their own challenges and stress points and may lack the knowledge and skills needed to handle every aspect of the rental process.

Real Estate Business sought out some of the industry’s most highly regarded property managers and asked them to share their secrets on how to successfully manage the expectations of the landlord.

Following are some of the most important factors agents must consider:

OPEN COMMUNICATION

As a property manager, liaising with landlords can, on occasions, be a day-to-day process. It follows that communication plays a vital role in maintaining a positive relationship.

Having an open and honest communication channel right from the start is essential to any business relationship, according to Alex Scott, principal of Top Notch Property Management and a winner of multiple professional awards, including the Property Manager of the Year gong from the REIACT.

“When I meet with a prospective landlord, I am interviewing them as well as they are me,” she says. “It’s a very good idea to set out and establish a clear level of expectation from both sides up front, so there can be no confusion at a later stage.”

Assessing a client’s previous experience and knowledge of the property market, the presentation and safety of the listing and the way the client will fit in with the business overall are all part of the interview process.

Establishing this open channel right at the start will not only assist with any problems that may arise later on, but will also improve the chances of gaining the listing.

“As soon as I return from my meeting, I send a thank you email, and I feel that these touch points aid in keeping me top of mind and show my interest in the client’s business,” Ms Scott adds.

Honest communication will also prove to be an effective tool for resolving any problems that may occur with property or tenants in the future.

Through many years of experience as a client liaison manager with Michael Johnson and Co, Professionals Real Estate Group, WA, Kathryn Massey says she knows what a vital asset effective communication can be for property managers.

“The biggest thing landlords want from their property manager is communication, accurate communication,” Ms Massey explains.

Keeping a client up to date on developments with their investment may sound simple enough; however, many property managers will often just go missing when there’s bad news to give. Ms Massey believes informing the landlord of an issue immediately is the first step to resolving the problem.

“Prompt communication is always important,” she says. “You have to tell your client what is going on when it is going on. The longer you leave it, the worse the problem will get.”

Sweeping problems under the rug has never been a solution for Ms Scott. “Bite the bullet and give them the bad news up front,” she says. “Tell them what you can do, what you can’t do, what you need to find out and give them a realistic timeframe as to when you can resolve it.”

Fortunately for property managers, communication does not have to be confined to problem solving. It’s also prudent for agents to build a sound professional relationship with their client as a means of securing future business, Ms Massey says.

“As a rule, most property managers only contact their landlord when something is going wrong, so call your client when there is nothing wrong. It just makes good business sense really,” she says.

The call can be quick – purely saying hello, telling them their property is OK and that there are no issues with the tenants. It’s a pleasant surprise for most landlords who have often become accustomed to associating a call with a request for maintenance money.

EDUCATING THE LANDLORD

Educating tenants on their rights and responsibilities makes complete sense to most property managers. But what about educating the landlord?

A landlord with a fuller understanding of their rights and responsibilities will have a clearer idea of what to expect from their property manager. This can also go a long way to solving a problem when it arises, Ms Massey says.

“Many agents make the mistake of spending a lot of time educating the tenant, telling them what they need to do, how they need to pay their rent, and what has to happen with maintenance and so on,” she explains. “But a lot of agents fail to provide their landlord with this information.”

Assuming the role of a landlord entails taking on a range of responsibilities. It is down to them to pay council rates and keep up with the cost of repairs and home maintenance.

This is why Ms Massey offers each of her clients a detailed handbook for landlords.

“We give our owners a really detailed 50-page handbook, which takes information straight out of the WA Residential Tenancies Act 1987 and explains all sorts of things regarding their rights.

“A lot of landlords will ring up and say ‘a tenant hasn’t paid their rent so go down there and kick them out’, but what they don’t realise is there is a process involved that we have to follow under the law.”

ATTENTION TO DETAIL

Understanding the numerous rules and regulations associated with leasing a property can be a daunting task, even for the most experienced agent.

However, most industry experts agree that having a fine eye for detail is a key requirement for managing property successfully.

Managing director of Just Rent Sydney, Michelle Galletti, has got plenty of experience in the property management area and believes that in few professions is the phrase ‘the devil’s in the detail’ more relevant.

“If you are a good property manager you will have an eye for detail,” Ms Galletti says. “In this job, you have to be very specific, looking at figures, checking applications. These are very important day to day tasks.”

Agents who quickly skim over a tenant’s application usually find themselves in hot water at some point down the track. The danger of not checking applications diligently is that it can result in major problems and can undermine the landlord’s faith in your ability, Ms Galletti explains.

“There are some agencies that just accept any application,” she says. “But you need to be really thorough because if you don’t check the application well, it can turn out to be a bit of a nightmare.

“It comes down to a lot of things like determining dates [for] tenancy termination. If you get that wrong, the termination can become void and [can] cause a lot of problems.”

Keeping up to date with rental payments and ensuring property inspections are completed on time are some of the simpler tasks that a property manager needs to have on their ‘to do’ list. Do these tasks well and you’re well on your way to keeping a landlord happy.

“[These tasks] are what an owner expects to be done,” Ms Scott says. “If you are really systematic and making sure everything happens on time, then nothing will slip through the cracks.”

BEING EASILY AVAILABLE

Being available to meet the needs of your landlord is crucial if you wish to be successful in the property management business.
Unfortunately, however, many agents lose business due to their inability to follow up calls and maintain contact with their clients.

“We have taken over a lot of properties from other agencies, and the biggest complaint we have heard is that landlords cannot get hold of their property manager,” Ms Scott says.  “I would say that would be the number one cause of property managers’ losing business.”

Over the years, Ms Galletti has seen property management evolve, with more and more agents looking to tap into the benefits of a steady cash-flow stream. Unfortunately, many newcomers make the mistake of over-committing themselves and pay the price when they find they can’t keep in touch properly.

“We are starting to see property managers, even juniors, take on large amounts of property that they simply can’t handle,” she says. “In turn, communication decreases and problems arise.”

By being pro-active and responding to every landlord’s call by the end of the business day, Ms Scott claims, she has managed to keep in tune with the needs of her clients and prevent any unnecessary stress.

“No property manager can make every risk or liability disappear,” she says. “No matter how good you are, problems are going to occur.”

While Ms Scott admits she may not be able to meet the requirements of every request immediately, by providing an honest timeframe upfront she is able to better manager her clients’ expectations.

“I have a commitment to respond to every phone call and every email enquiry before I go home,” she says.

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Property managers encounter a range of challenges and complications in their day to day work. As a result, agents need a well-organised system and proper policies and procedures in place to deal with them.

“The more experience you have, [the] easier you will foresee issues before they arise,” Ms Scott says. “Those that lack the experience will be able to rely on this system.”

While not every situation can be handled in the same way, property managers who have a sound set of policies and procedures will be able to continue to meet the expectations of their landlord professionally when problems arise.

“Policies and procedures are basically in place to protect landlords, so they make you accountable,” Ms Massey says.

As Ms Galletti explains, a pro-active approach is key to this role. With a sizeable bank of insider tips, she herself has organised a system to ensure she spends less time tidying and more time focusing on her business.

“If you put some tenants in and follow this up with an inspection soon after, you can obviously see how they are going to be as tenants,” she says.

“Also, a thorough inspection of their application will allow you to gauge how they will be as tenants in the future.”

Balancing the landlord-tenant relationship can, however, sometimes be difficult. Some property managers fall into the trap of feeling sorry for the tenant who is unable to pay the rent on time. In this situation, not only do ethical issues arise, but the relationship you have with your landlord will almost certainly begin to unravel.

“A property manager may feel sorry for a particular tenant because they haven’t been able to pay their rent one week, so they will waive that week with the promise the tenant will pay it next week,” Ms Massey says.

“If you haven’t followed your policies and sent out the correct notifications in the first week, you will quickly find yourself further behind.”

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